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NASA launches new aircraft modeling software

By Ehren Wynder
Aviary creates digital aircraft models to innovate new aircraft designs. The code builds on previous modeling software used by NASA and allows users to simulate complex systems before undergoing expensive test flights. Image courtesy of NASA
Aviary creates digital aircraft models to innovate new aircraft designs. The code builds on previous modeling software used by NASA and allows users to simulate complex systems before undergoing expensive test flights. Image courtesy of NASA

May 17 (UPI) -- NASA on Friday announced it has created a new digital modeling tool for engineers to simulate conceptual aircraft designs.

The new Aviary tool allows researchers to digitally test how aircraft concepts would work in the real world prior to making costly flight tests.

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The code is hosted on GitHub and is free for public use. Users can input information such as the aircraft's shape, range and other characteristics, which Aviary will use to create a corresponding digital model of the aircraft.

Unlike previous aviation modeling tools, Aviary can link with other codes and programs to expand its capabilities.

"We wanted to make it easy to extend the code and tie it in with other tools," Jennifer Gratz, who leads Aviary's integration and development, said in a statement. "Aviary is intentionally designed to be able to integrate disciplines together more tightly."

Aviary builds on two prior modeling tools NASA created decades ago: the Flight Optimization System, and the General Aviation Synthesis Program.

Gratz said the older systems were limited in their understanding of how separate systems integrate into aircraft engineering, such as with hybrid-electric aircraft.

Aviary, by comparison, allows researchers to integrate detailed information from multiple complex systems to model more advanced modern aircraft.

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The code also can help users determine how much a certain value affects another value when it changes, such as how powerful a battery should be to power an aircraft.

"You could tell Aviary to figure out how powerful a battery should be to make using it worthwhile. It will run a simulated flight mission and come back with the result," Gratz said. "Older tools can't do that without modification."

Gratz said older tools combined had all these capabilities, but users can access them all just with Aviary.

Aviary also comes with extensive documentation, including instructions on how to install and use the system, and how to interpret the data.

"If nobody can understand the tool, nobody can use it," Gratz said. "By having a good record of Aviary's development and changes, more people can benefit. You don't have to be an expert to use it."

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